Thought Leadership –a Success Story

The first official ‘Thought Leader’ was a pioneer of human dignity

In the modern sense of the word, a Thought Leader is someone whose views on a subject are seen as leading and influential. The term as such emerged for the first time at the end of the 19th century when the American clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher was honored for his accomplishments and contributions to the abolitionist movement.

The dedication to a great idea

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As a preacher, author and public speaker Henry Beecher gained great influence and coined the way people thought of people from different social and educational backgrounds. He advocated the abolishment of slavery and lead by example, buying slaves their freedom and even supporting the armed fight against those who would maintain slavery as an institution.

When the American civil war escalated, he went to Europe, rallying support for the Union in public speeches. After the war, he advocated gender equality and the recognition of Darwin’s theory of evolution – as a man of the church, one might add. Due to his immense popularity, he was called “The Most Famous Man in America” by his biographer.

Through preaching and public speaking, he won the hearts and minds of the people by unusual means: storytelling, humor and colloquial language – the language of the people.

Everything that makes a Thought Leader

Advancing big ideas for the greater good. Daringly and solely moving ahead. Winning the people over with a strong message and a compelling narrative. Promoting the people’s commitment to a common cause. All those things define history’s Thought Leaders.

Business rediscovers Thought Leadership

After the Second World War, the world’s first professional Thought Leadership market emerged in the US. Consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain & Company and the Boston Consulting Group began to create and market their own management topics and trends.


Terms like „management strategy“ and tools like „9-Field-Matrix“ were developed to inspire managers of different industries and all levels of the hierarchy. High-quality lecture events, roadshows, and Management Magazines were initiated in order to convey the own ‘Leading Thoughts’. The success spoke for itself: the industry was and is booming and new management trends like ‘Just-in-Time’ or ‘Change Management’ were developed and are still highly important today.

Nowadays, having our world dominated by ideas and terminologies which are professionally designed and marketed – and also subject to a marketing cycle – has become the norm. Big data, Industry 4.0, the Web of Things as well as Shareconomy are all globally successful Thought Leadership campaigns. They are all terms which didn’t even exist a couple of years ago.

Thought leaders developed those trends and topics and by doing so created entirely new markets. These thought leaders positioned themselves as creators of their respective industries and achieved a position as number one in the minds of their customers and their competitors as well as society as a whole. They ingrained their ‘leading thoughts’ deeply into the people’s minds and thereby determined the acts and thoughts of managers, consumers and the public. This is how thought leadership repeatedly leads to the creation of huge markets for products, services and systems.

Thought Leadership works systematically

Thought leadership is older than Henry Beecher. Big ideas and the pioneers of new technology, products and concepts have always conquered the hearts and minds of the people. Here’s the difference: nowadays more and more people discover the universal principles and professional applications of thought leadership for themselves. Anyone can become a thought leader.

Big ideas and an aspiration to thought leadership, however, are not enough. Successful, modern thought leaders know that a whole system is required. They need to entrench their ideas and products deep within the people’s hearts and minds, thus involving them to the point at which they become a community. Companies like Google and Amazon. Open-source-movements like WordPress and Wikipedia. Blockbusters like Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. Organisations like Greenpeace and public figures like Barack Obama, Richard Branson, even the Dalai Lama. All of them use thought leadership and implement systems which excite fans and actively involve them.

We at Thought Leader Systems strive towards a world of innovative ideas just like Henry Beecher advocated. That’s why we support thought leadership. For any industry, business, personage and institution. The digital era we live in gives each and every one of us the opportunity to find and realize exiting new ideas and by doing so change the world for the better. Let’s use that opportunity.